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Thomas leads by 3; Tiger 11 shots down

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Justin Thomas had six birdies in a three-under par 67 Saturday to seize a three-shot third-round lead at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, where Tiger Woods faded from contention.

Justin Thomas watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. (AP)

Justin Thomas watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. (AP)

Thomas, who defends his PGA Championship title next week at the last major of the year, is rounding into form just at the right time.

A two-time winner early this season, has finished inside the top 10 just once in his last eight starts.

One over through the first five holes after a birdie and two bogeys, he produced five birdies in a nine-hole span to separate himself from a star-studded chasing pack.

‘‘I just need to continue to go out and play well tomorrow because I have a lot of really good players chasing me,’’ said Thomas, who will play in the final group on Sunday with Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy carded a three-under 67 to share second on 199 with overnight co-leader Ian Poulter of England, who carded a 70.

Former world number one Jason Day was alone on 200 after a 69.

Woods, an eight-time winner at Firestone Country Club, which is hosting the Bridgestone for the last time, couldn’t keep pace.

He started the day five off the lead and carded a three-over 73 that left him 11 adrift.

‘‘I’m fine. I just played like crap,’’ Woods said. ‘‘I didn’t warm up very well, I didn’t hit the ball crisp or clean. Very similar to, you know, (to) the first day. The difference is, I made everything the first day.

‘‘Today, I didn’t make anything.’’

With the Firestone Country Club greens firming up in warm, sunny weather, all of the contenders predicted a tough challenge on Sunday.

‘‘The hard part about this course is you can get off track pretty quick if you’re not playing well,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘I think that’s why with it being softer this week you’re seeing a big variety of scores, because it’s soft enough where if you’re playing well you can shoot low but if you’re not you can shoot some pretty high numbers.’’

McIlroy was pleased with a round in which he hit nine of 14 fairways, producing three birdies without a bogey.

‘‘I like to hit driver as much as possible and this course allows me to do that,’’ McIlroy said.

‘‘It allows you to be aggressive off the tee. Nine out of 14 fairways for me today is a really good number. If I can do that tomorrow hopefully I’ll have a chance.’’

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